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Mrs Hogg, honoured guests, colleagues, mums, dads, proud grannies and granddads but as always, most especially you, boys and girls, on behalf of the Board of Governors of Carrickfergus Grammar School I welcome you to our Prize Distribution for the academic year 2016/17, an evening when we look back at the life of the school and the achievements of these wonderful pupils over the last 12 months.

In September 1985 I well remember sitting on one of the seats up here behind me on the stage and listening to the then Principal, that consummate gentleman the late Mr Hugh Jamison, and I remember feeling uplifted and motivated by the accomplishments of CGS pupils, some of whom are now back with us as parents, and one of whom is our guest of honour this evening, Mrs Lesley Hogg nee McCullough. And in one way very little has changed since 1985, for never mind the absence of a Minister for Education, never mind the pressure of crushing budgets, never mind a curriculum that has become so dominated by testing that pupils are measured, weighed and assessed at every turn…the single, unchanging priority is you, boys and girls: your future and, not to put too fine a point on it, Northern Ireland's future.

The more alert amongst you will have noticed that I have just used the adjective "wonderful" to describe your sons and daughters: and I'm going to prove it this evening by presenting you with many shining examples, so let's begin with two. Two young women who quietly exemplify the very best in human nature – courage, determination, and an inspiringly positive attitude in the face of difficulties that others might use as an acceptable excuse for failure. Having successfully completed her GCSEs in Downshire Community School, Lucy Allen joined us in September 2015.

Lucy took A-levels in Biology, Home Economics and Religious Studies and, having worked hard to achieve the strong grades that she needed to embark on her honours degree course in Theology she is now enrolled as an undergraduate student at Queen's University Belfast. So far so standard Sixth Form, no? But Lucy has managed this whilst coping with a health condition that has made her up-hill climb to success all the steeper, for Lucy was born with a congenital heart condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has had three major, life-saving heart surgeries - the first when she was just two days old. Lucy was born without a left ventricle - the chamber in our heart that pumps blood around the body, and she has basically achieved all that she has with just half of a working heart. And yet I have never seen Lucy without a bright smile on her face. I have never known her to complain, I have never known her to make excuses, and when I have asked her how she is she has never said anything to me other than "Fine thanks – how are you?" We have a special prize reserved for inspirational young people like Lucy – The Clarke Shield for Endeavour, which was gifted to the school by Ruth and Raymond Clarke, two former pupils themselves, in memory of their beautiful daughter Jenny. Lucy you are just the calibre of person to deserve this.
Being a former language teacher I love the history of words, which makes me a real hit at parties, and Endeavour comes from a late Middle English word which goes back to the French – to put oneself en devoir – that is, is to live up to a duty, and that duty is to live our lives to the very best. Lucy, your example inspires us all to do just that. But for the first time ever, this year we need to share the Clarke Shield for Endeavour, because to distinguish between Lucy Allen and Alisha Gregg would be to demean them both. During the summer, on Saturday 12 August an article appeared in the Times, newspaper – yes, THE Times newspaper - called The New OCD Generation. It dealt with one of the most debilitating and misunderstood mental conditions of our age – obsessive compulsive disorder – which although previously rare amongst young people is now worryingly prevalent with 1 in every 100 falling hostage to its grip. The article was led by Alisha, who is with us this evening before taking up her place in one of the most prestigious seats of learning in the UK - the University of Durham – to study English Literature. Alisha is a highly articulate, talented and insightful young woman who blogs beautifully about the daily challenges of living with this tyrannical disorder and I encourage you to read her compelling words in The Mighty, a website devoted to real people and real stories. Adults and children with OCD are riddled with uncertainty and plagued by uncontrollable thoughts that cause paralysing fear and defy all attempts at rational control. Alisha's courage in revealing her disorder so nationally is as breath-taking as it is inspiring, and all the more so when nowhere in the article will you find mention of the fact that she has also overcome an eyesight problem which is so severe as to render her visually impaired. And yet, like Lucy, Alisha is a breath of fresh air – in fact she is one of the sunniest, funniest pupils to have come through our doors. Lucy and Alisha, it has been a privilege to have you here, and I hope that the memories of your schooldays are as positive as our memories of you.

Our school song – Praestantia in Omnia, meaning Excellence in Everything – was written in 2012 for the school's 50th Anniversary by our Head of Music, Mr Edward Craig. "For here it starts within these walls, this school in Carrickfergus". And indeed here it did start for our Guest of Honour this evening, Mrs Lesley Hogg, or Lesley McCullough as she was then known, for Lesley is one of us, a former pupil of the school. Lesley, I am delighted to welcome you back, although as mother to Christopher, who has just completed A-levels and is about to fly the family nest to the University of South Wales to study Lighting Design and Technology; and Louise, who will sing in our star choir a little later on, you are certainly no stranger to your alma mater. Now that our school, like myself, is well over the half-century mark, I am keen that on evenings like this our former pupils come back to motivate the current crop of talent, to show that those who walked the same corridors as you, boys and girls, have gone on to achieve handsome success, just as you can and, I have no doubt, will. In recent years we have reconnected with former CGSers Hugh Black, Centre Manager of Victoria Square; Richard Hewitt MBE, former commander of the parachute regiment which stormed Sadaam Hussein's palace; Dr Alison Montgomery, Senior Policy and Research Officer with the Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People; former Head Boy Richard Carberry, now a Forensic Risk Consultant with KPMG; Sonja McIlfatrick, Professor of Nursing at the University of Ulster; and last year with Dr Richard Wilson who leads the Province's Child and Adolescents' Mental Health Services.

Our Guest of Honour this evening is no exception, for Lesley McCullough was born and raised here in Carrickfergus. She came to us from the Model Primary School in 1981 and was a pupil here to 1988. She was also our Head Girl and, as is the case with Emma Cooper last year and Megan Davis this year, she was not selected, but elected by teachers and pupils for a very simple reason - because they had faith in her.

Well, having been Head Girl of Carrickfergus Grammar School Lesley is now Head Girl of Northern Ireland, for she was appointed as Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Assembly in June last year. As such she is responsible for providing advice and support to the Assembly Speaker, taking responsibility for leading a professional Secretariat, and acting as the Accounting Officer for the entire organisation.
Lesley left us in 1988 to study at the Ulster University where she became a Chartered Accountant and has since had an extensive leadership career in a number of large private and public sector organisations. Formerly the Chief Executive of Premier Power Ltd, she was instrumental in the sale of Ballylumford power station to AES UK and Ireland, following which she was appointed as Director of Strategic and Regulatory Affairs.

Lesley's other roles include Director of Finance and Corporate Affairs for the Northern Ireland Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Principal Financial Accountant for the PSNI, Regional Finance Manager for the British Red Cross Society and Training Manager for Price Waterhouse.

And I haven't finished – she has also served as non-Executive Chair of the Electricity Association of Ireland, non-Executive Director of Women in Business and, the jewel in the crown Lesley…she is also a member of the Board of Governors of Carrickfergus Grammar School.
This evening's opening prayer was taken by Mr Peter Warke, who, along with Miss Katie Edge, is one of the current bright young things in the Maths department run under the watchful eye of Mr Keith Marshall. And what a department they are! Once more this year they have ensured that pupils go forward with the essential qualification of Mathematics under their belts at both GCSE and A-level. But don't take my word for it: this is what the Education and Training Inspectorate say about the standard of Maths in the school:
Pupils enjoy learning mathematics: the standard of their written work is of a high quality and over the past three years the proportion of pupils attaining grades A*-B in GCSE Mathematics and Further Mathematics is consistently well above or in line with the respective NI averages for similar schools. The standards attained by pupils at A-level grades A*-C are also consistently above the NI Grammar School average.
Now I could read you something very similar about the high standard of English in the school which under Mrs Cyndy Reid's leadership also sits well above the Grammar Schools' average. I thank my colleagues in both departments for their teaching skills, their hard work and their daily commitment, and I report these paragraphs to you in a spirit of reassurance – choosing the right school for our children is one of the most important decisions that we parents must make, and I am delighted to be able to tell you that yours can be in no better place to develop the twin pillar life-skills of literacy and numeracy.
Numeracy in particular is about tackling problems, and to tackle problems you need confidence, and if ever there was a teacher to inspire confidence in those who need it most it's the lady I mentioned just now, Mrs Dyanne Logan – or as Mr Marshall refers to her - the mother of the Maths department.
In Dyanne's class I would never have been afraid, I would never have cringed at the prospect of looking stupid - because for more than three decades Dyanne has nurtured confidence and helped lame ducks over stiles. Pupils don't choose their teachers, Dyanne, but if I had been able to, I would have chosen you.

I have only ever heard your name spoken of with gratitude. I know from what so many have said to me over the years that you are a born teacher who has guided the mathematically challenged towards an acceptable level of numerical competence, and with such kindliness and warmth that they have always felt at home in your care. I often say in assembly that we all remember two types of people – those who were unkind to us and those special individuals who were kind. You can be assured, Dyanne, that you will be remembered in the best of ways and we're delighted that you are with us this evening along with your husband, Johnny, and Amy and Lucy, both former pupils of the school themselves. I know that Mr Marshall has long dreaded the day when you press C on your calculator for the final time, and he is not alone. But please don't be a stranger – and I don't think that you would ever want to be, because CGS is in your bloodstream. Dyanne started teaching here in 1986, but her mum, Mrs Eirene Wright, was a senior teacher here from 1971 to 1978, and every year since then we have presented the Eirene Wright cup for Religious Studies. But from 2017 onwards, for the first time, we will have trophies on the stage which have been gifted by a mother and daughter for, like Mrs Wright, Mrs Logan is leaving some generosity in her wake. The Logos Shield – Logos being Greek for The Word – will henceforth be presented for outstanding contribution to Scripture Union in the school, and the Dyanne Logan Cup for A-level Statistics will join it.
It is only fitting that mother and daughter should have their memories side by side, so I am now going to ask Dyanne to come up on stage to present the Eirene Wright cup for Religious Studies to Jamie Wharry, the Dyanne Logan Cup for A-level Statistics to Simon Gregory, and the Logos Shield for outstanding contribution to Scripture Union to Clara Rose Armstrong. Thank you Dyanne.

I mentioned the Education and Training Inspectorate just now, and on this very day last year, the 28th of September, I received an email which read as follows; "Please find attached a letter informing you of a forthcoming inspection of the school. The school went into overdrive but I am happy to report that the 8-man inspection team that turned us upside down, inside out, and back to front saw no reason to return in the near future. Yes, like all organisations we have our areas for improvement – what family doesn't? – But on the whole we were delighted to have our endeavours recognised.
At this point I could quote you trends, percentages and statistics, because for someone who has a natural antipathy to numbers I have had to become terribly familiar with them in recent years. More often than not I have found myself staring at tables full of benchmark figures or budget plans, and at this point I must thank Senior Teacher Mr Paul McKittrick for his wise counsel and financial husbandry. But once a school Principal starts seeing only figures, and not futures, it's time to go, but I intend to stay put for some time yet! So instead I'm going to read you the paragraph from our inspection report which I am most proud of. And this is what it says:

Importantly, throughout the school the quietly confident pupils are very motivated with high levels of maturity and well developed personal and social skills. They respond enthusiastically to a wide range of active learning opportunities and engage purposefully in their learning. Through a range of leadership roles, for example peer mentoring, the pupils have opportunities to develop further their wider skills and dispositions and make a positive contribution to their school.

Mrs Hogg, Lesley McCullough, former Head Girl and our country's Chief Executive, I hope that you recognise the same ethos of the same school which you attended some 30 years ago, and I trust that the pupils who currently wear the CGS uniform rise to guide their own children with solid confidence and benevolent purpose: our future, boys and girls, is in your hands.

Sometimes it might seem to us adults that studying is the mere art of eating, fidgeting and performing on social media with an open textbook somewhere in the same room, but we've obviously been fooled by that one. Our GCSE results this year have shown what can be achieved with the three essential ingredients in any school's recipe for success: high quality teaching, supportive parenting, and committed, ambitious young people.

In August 117 pupils received 1042 GCSE grades across 25 subjects, with almost half of these being at A or A*. Indeed with more than three quarters of the grades awarded being no lower than a B we have a particularly strong A-level cohort for August 2020. Whilst I am of course very proud to be able to say that the single most common GCSE result in the school this year was a grade A, it is always important to remember that this only reflects the success of individual pupils who have worked with grit and determination under their teachers' guidance. This year our top student at GCSE was Evie Bennett who achieved a perfect grade profile of 10 A*s. In fact, Evie scored an A* in 27 out of her 30 GCSE modules – in the remaining 3 she got an A…Evie…what went wrong??
But with ten other girls – Sarah Hendawy, Emma Madden, Connie Smyth, Jayne Bell, Robyn Clarke, Gemma Henry, Anna McAteer, Hannah McKay, Jessica Montgomery and Olivia Moore – amassing between them a dazzling 51 As and 48 A*s Evie will certainly have healthy competition at A-level. Despite national misgivings about how males are faring educationally our boys in CGS have shown that they too have high aspirations: our top achievers this August were Daniel Alderdice and Jonathan Wilson who, along with Dylan Spence, Joshua Irvine, Tom McGowan, Jake Neilly, Curtis Patterson, Philip Stewart and Jamie Wharry, have racked up a marvellous total of 27 A*s and 52 grade As between them. Well done boys and girls, well done to all staff across the school, and well done to all the supportive mums and dads who provided love and DNA – it's all down to you!

With regard to A-level results I was absolutely delighted because last year's Year 14 scholars produced the best set of grades in the school's history. With an overall pass rate of 97% and more than 80% of pupils achieving the upper echelons of A*-C in all of their subjects the gates have swung wide open on to Honours Degree courses, school leaver placements with global financial organisations, and personal career paths: in other words, excellent life chances. Because whilst a school's success is measured in numbers by the Department of Education every teacher and parent knows that although numbers count, what count far more are the life chances of children. Numbers might sit in tables annually but young people sit at desks daily: they have only one chance at their education and it is our responsibility to see that they seize it with both hands. This was certainly the case in BT38 in 2017. Together our Year 14 students amassed well over 100 A/A* grades with two pupils, Emma Cooper and Simon Gregory, picking up 7 top grades between them, an outstanding achievement in anyone's book!

This year's A-level group must now meet the challenge of matching this exceptional level of success, and with hard work in the coming year this is well within their reach: with Rachel Abraham, Nicole Alderdice, Megan Davis, Bethany Fulton, Victoria Johnston, Zara Logan, Jessica Marshall, Lauren McAllister, Holly McCormack and Cara Rose all achieving 3 top A grades each and Hannah Fugard, Stef Meucci and Rebecca Hill hitting the jackpot with four A grades apiece there is talent aplenty to build on in the terms to come.

All of these super grades are, of course, important, but thankfully, the extra-curriculum is alive and well with the Duke of Edinburgh's Awards scheme continuing to flourish under Mr Crawford, and scores of pupils turning out sleepy-eyed on Saturday mornings to represent their school. Our Year 10 footballers won last year's East Antrim cup and saw off 62 other schools to reach the quarter finals of the NI competition. Tyrone Simms was selected for the Ulster Schools U-16 rugby squad, whilst in track and field Matty Baxter was selected to represent Ulster in the Triple Jump and Jack Leathem, aka Billy Whizz, represented NI in the 4x100 metres relay in the UK Schools Games held at Loughborough University in August.

Congratulations must also go to Katharine Sheeran, Cara Hughes, Holly Campbell and Abigail Arthurs who were all chosen by the NI Netball Academy as top players in their age-group. On the Design and Technology front our Formula 1 in Schools teams once more covered themselves in glory with Team Eloquent Spin, comprising Jazmine Evangelista-Mcshane, Rae Branagh, Lucy McCrea and Stephanie Lindsay winning the team identity award whilst Team Dauntless, made up of Louise Hogg, Antoni Furmin, Jade McGrath and Rebecca Robinson qualified to represent NI in the World Finals in Malaysia this October, but with English and Northern Ireland schools having unhelpfully different holidays we just need a little more time than our cousins on the mainland to get funding, so please feel free to put your hands in your pockets on the way out to make a contribution.
Mind you, we will be represented there as one of last year's Year 14 participants, Kyle Hutton, cannot be here this evening as he is currently in Malaysia to judge the competition no less! Meanwhile there is also plenty to blow our trumpet about in the Music department. Yes, we had our usual dizzy round of events and successes with last year's memorable choir tour to York, this year's Instrumental Bash returning from Holywood, County Down on Friday of last week, whilst our Spanish Exchange group came from even further afield to be here tonight having just returned from Puerto de Santa María in the south of Spain on Sunday.

But back to music, and once again our senior choristers gave us a proper roller-coaster ride as they reached the final of the BBC Radio Ulster school choir of the year competition for the second year in a row. The final was broadcast live from the Ulster Hall at the end of April, and we were just pipped, again, this time by Regent House School in Newtownards, but the standard was so high and the professional judges were so effusive that I am confident the decision must have come down to the flip of a coin. No matter – we were all thrilled and proud for our fabulous choir, the current incarnation of which you will hear very shortly. Before I do sit down I have some thanks to offer. Thank you to my Board of Governors without
whose many hours of voluntary support, often late into the evenings, I simply could not do my job. Thank you to our Parents' Association led by Mrs Lisa Cubitt, Mrs Catherine Brown and Mr Mark Edgar, who continue to show phenomenal loyalty and commitment to your children - I urge you to support them when you can.

Thank you to all my staff – teaching and support – who are working under dramatically increased levels of pressure due to the continuing financial crisis but who continue to give everything they can to our pupils, sometimes at the cost of their own health.

And above all thank you to my pupils – for when I emerge from my office dizzied by numbers, tables and performance statistics your friendly hellos around the corridor never fail to lift me and, more importantly, remind me why I am here.

To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, when I spoke of my colleague, Mrs Logan, a little earlier I spoke of her kindness, and one of the most special things about working in a school is that you see so much of that – whether it's our Parents' Association raising funds for Marie Curie by planting a daffodil bulb for every member of the school community, our Habitat for Humanity group led by Miss Eimear Stewart raising enough to build a home for a destitute family in the developing world, or just a pupil who is worried about a friend coming to see Mrs Kane to get them some help. Yes – as I said, we all remember those who were kind to us, and that, principally, is why we remember Peter Arthurs.
Peter was one of our Instrumental Tutors who passed away in June this year at the far too young age of 36, and being a big man with a big heart he has left a big gap behind him. I am delighted that Peter's mum and dad, his sister Catherine, and his wife Gillian have joined us this evening. Our thoughts are also with Peter and Gillian's daughter, little Isabella. Peter was a gifted soprano cornet player in Third Carrick Band where he played alongside many of our current and former pupils, but he was also a highly popular and jovial brass tutor with us for ten happy years.

Peter could regularly be heard rehearsing here in the hall, always enthusiastically, always in the best of humour, and our Friday feeling officially began at 11.00 am every Friday morning as Peter and Mrs Withers' pupils played us in to assembly with something bright and jaunty.

I clearly remember shaking Peter's hand at the front door of the school in June 2015 and thanking him for all his work with pupils throughout the year. As we wished each other a happy summer break his face beamed back at me with his warm, jolly smile.

Peter was with us again last November at a concert he had arranged with Third Carrick Band, and sadly that was to be the last time that I spoke to him. As an acknowledgement of his work with us the school's Music Society donated to Brainwaves NI the £800 which we raised at our Spring concert last March.

And as our choir come in to join us, on behalf of us all I say, we miss you, Peter, and this final round of applause is for you.


 

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